10 Interesting Foods to Check Out Next Time You Shop

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I demo a lot of products for natural foods vendors, and it gives me a lot of time to observe shopping behavior.  The concept of “natural” clearly motivates many customers to walk into the store, but they often seem to do more looking than buying.

Thinking that perhaps the different foods and new and different brand names can be intimidating, I’ve worked with Whole Foods to develop grocery store tours designed specifically to highlight possibilities and increase confidence with items the new “natural” shopper may not know how to use.

Here is a rundown of ten foods I’ve learned to routinely discuss, as participants have shared how much they enjoy them!

Quinoa

Pronounced keen-wah, this grain-like food works perfectly in recipes where you may be using bulgur wheat or rice (such as tabouli and pilafs).  Quinoa is a high-protein (8 grams per cooked cup) substitute that is gentle on the blood sugar and, because of its neutral flavor, can be combined with ingredients from sweet to savory.  It’s easy to prepare, you simply add boiling water and let it sit for about 20 minutes, then toss it with your favorite ingredients.  I am partial to quinoa cakes, which are much like veggie burgers.

Quinoa is especially good for women in their childbearing years, as it is high in folate, it can minimize blood sugar fluctuations, and during nursing, it can promote milk production.  It is also gluten free, which can add variety to a diet that is being followed because of celiac disease.

Quinoa is available in its natural form, as well as pastas which can be cooked and served like traditional wheat-based varieties.

Jicama

This great vegetable often gets overlooked because it’s bit homely next to all the colorful options in the produce department.  But if you dare to peel it and chop it up…you’ll be hooked!  This root has the texture/consistency of a water chestnut, it’s sweet to the taste, and makes a great choice dipped in hummus if you get an attack of the afternoon munchies that only something crunchy will help.

One cup only has 45 calories!  Consider adding it to any vegetable tray you might be preparing for your next party.

Shirataki Noodles

For those of you trying to eat fewer processed carbs and who feel your diet is just “missing something”, head to the refrigerator case and look for Shirataki Noodles.  This Japanese pasta substitute is made from the high-fiber konjac plant, and contains no carbohydrates (or calories, for that matter).  You can eat them with pasta sauce, stir-fry them with vegetables, use them like you would any other pasta.

These noodles come pre-cooked and packaged in a brine-like substance.  Before eating or cooking them, be sure to soak them in some water to remove any residual flavor to be sure you taste them at their very best.

Catfish

I’ve lost track of the people I’ve seen turn their noses up at catfish, because of its reputation as a “scavenger” and “bottom feeder”.  Modern day catfish is actually fed pellets that float on top of the water, eliminating any concern about what they’re really eating.  Fish farms are often dismissed as not being environmentally friendly, but catfish farms have gained respect and endorsement from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.  I like to recommend catfish for people who can’t tolerate the “fishy” taste of other seafood.  It’s bland, it grills well, and it is great with condiments such as salsa and chutney.

Nopales

Nopales (also called nopalitos) are actually cactus pads, cut into strips and cooked.  When you remove them from the jar, they have a bit of a gooey consistency, much like okra.  Don’t fear the goo!  It’s actually soluble fiber, which is very good for bringing down cholesterol.  In addition, nopales are a good source of vitamins A, C, K, and B6.  For those of you looking to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, nopales also contain choline, the building block for acetylcholine, the compound many Alzheimer’s medications are designed to increase.

Nopales are easy to add to your traditional Mexican recipes—huevos rancheros, salsas, chiles rellenos, or soups.

Cacao Nibs

Jonesing for chocolate?  Try it in its purest form-cacao nibs.  They are nothing more than cleaned, roasted, lightly crushed cacao beans.  You can add them to your trail mix, your oatmeal, your baking…and get the antioxidant benefits of cacao without the sugar you’ll find in processed chocolate.  The flavor is more intense than processed chocolate, which  means it might be more satisfying in smaller quantities…good news for your waistline!

Pluots

I love apricots, but they can often be mealy and tasteless.  Enter pluots, a cross between apricots and plums.  They are sweet, and they’re great eaten alone, added to salads, even grilled with your favorite meat.  Once you try them, you’ll be hooked!

Tofu

I’m asked a lot about tofu, because of all the concern about too much soy.  The bottom line is that soy in moderate amounts, in its fermented form, provided you do not have a family history of estrogen-based cancer or thyroid disease, can be a versatile source of meatless protein.  Tofu is bland in its pure form, but it absorbs any flavors it is cooked with, making it a great candidate for marinating and stir frying.

Tempeh

Tempeh is tofu’s lesser known cousin.  Not sure what to do with it?  Substitute it for ground beef in your spaghetti sauce, stuffed peppers, curries, tacos, etc.

Marine algae

A nutrient that is very hard to get in your diet if you’re vegetarian is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid primarily found in seafood.  Food scientists have discovered a way to harvest DHA from marine algae and put it into foods, making it easier to have a nutritionally complete vegetarian diet.  The “Life’s DHA” logo on a food label indicates that a product has been supplemented with marine algae.  At press time, examples of algae-supplemented food included Rachel’s Wickedly Delicious Yogurt, Mission Life Balance Tortillas, and Healthy 10 Kefir (a yogurt drink).

Rather than looking for carbon copies of foods you’re accustomed to finding in your traditional grocer, use your natural grocer as an opportunity to expand your food choices!  You might  be surprised to discover that not only are you helping the planet and eating more healthfully…you’re having a lot of fun in the process.

Contributor Info:
Monika M. Woolsey, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist, and founder of inCYST, a network of professionals dedicated to helping women design natural solutions to problems such as infertility. Her Fertility Friendly Food Tours (SM) are currently available in Whole Foods Stores in Arizona and Southern California. For more information, visit www.incyst.blogspot.com

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One Comment for “10 Interesting Foods to Check Out Next Time You Shop”

  • MaeNo Gravatar

    I apologize, but — I really think you have been doing the new natural sample demos for tooo long; I got excited when I read your first item of ‘quinoa’, but after that it just got to become a little too much.

    *I have tasted jicama and it is disgusting to say the least.
    *The shiratnaki noodles

    I am an American- But I really think ‘Americans’ are trying too hard for something different in the food world lately.

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